Alpha Dog **1/2
When January comes rolling alone, I am sure that any film goer is grateful for a shred of an "ok" film. Something that is actually tolerable, and shows signs of effort. "Alpha Dog" is a film like that-not perfect, entertaining, and doesn't seem as if the studio released this at this time simply to dump it out. This is actually a decent film, but just about misses the mark of being something good. "Alpha Dog" is another film about a bunch of teenage dopeheads that do stupid things for stupid reasons-and those stupid reasons pretty much all involve drugs, arguments, and then battles over petty amounts of money. And while almost all of the characters end up being contrived plot devices as opposed to actual characters, there was a small bit of intensity, especially towards the end. It's hard to really recommend, but if you are through with the awards films and have nothing else to see this month, you certainly could do worse than this.
"Alpha Dog" tells the true story of Jesse James Hollywood. Hollywood was arrested recently after a five year stint on the FBI's Most Wanted list after he masterminded the kidnapping and eventual murder of a young boy because of a drug deal gone bad. Hollywood-whose name here is changed to Johnny Truelove-was indeed one of the biggest drug dealers in his little suburbia town. And he spends a lot of time with his two friends Frankie and Tiko. He also likes to boss around Elvis, who will pretty much do anything for Johnny. Truelove is the foundation of the group, and when they aren't out in the valley selling drugs, they are hanging out or partying in the house than Johnny bought with his drug money. At one of these parties, Johnny ends up angering the wrong person-drug dealer/skinhead Jake, who won't pay Johnny the money that he owes him. Jake tries to borrow money off of his father, but his stepmother refuses to take part. This little development leads to the unthinkable. Because of their feud, Jake ends up trashing Johnny's house, and even leaving a little care package on his rug. Johnny decides to get revenge, and the perfect chance comes during a drive in his van, where he sees Zack-Jake's stepbrother. Johnny grabs Zack and holds him hostage, but he has bigger problems to worry about when he remembers that it is his girlfriends birthday. He enlists in his friends to watch the kid, who seems somewhat grateful to be able to get away from his overbearing mother, and given the chance to just hang out for a while. Frankie takes the kid under his wing, and introduces him to some friends where Zack ends up having the night of his life. But Johnny begins to get worried, especially when he finds out that he could get life for taking the kid, and he decides that they might have to kill him.
There were some moments towards the end where I really couldn't figure out which direction the story was going, and a ten minute sequence in the valley where the climax takes place was very intense and keeps you watching. I didn't check my watch once during the whole thing, which is something special for a film this time of the year. However, there were numerous problems. The script was padded with more "f's" than the word "fluffy," and some of the party scenes got repetitious. I understand that this was what life was like for these kids, but I didn't need to see them party, get high, make lame joke, party, and then get high again. Most of the acting, especially the supporting cast, did not amount of anything more than a bunch of angry teenage kids spewing dirty words and doing drugs. Very standard characters. The main cast didn't do that bad of a job-even Justin Timberlake did what he was supposed to be fairly satisfactory. He's pretty much one of the only central characters here that end up showing a heart. Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone are probably doing some paycheck work here, but they do a decent job as well.
One of the biggest upsets that the film has is the ending, which weakens it greatly. During the climatic scene I actually was interested in the film, and it reached an odd intensity that I didn't think this film could reach. And then there is a mock interview a few years later with Sharon Stone's character, where she yells at the people that kidnapped her son. The film should have ended here, but writer/director Nick Cassavetes(whose previous film was "The Notebook"-go figure) decided to tell us what happened next to the characters. This might be alright in giving a little bit of closure, but we could probably figure out what happened to the characters because of the news and how this is a true story. To have ended on a more emotional level as opposed to a level of finality would have been much better, and during Stone's speech I was just praying to myself that the screen would go black, and the ending would have been more tearful and haunting. Even though the film starts off with Johnny's story, the film is really about Zack, and to have ended it about him would have been far more effective. If you see this film in theatres, I suggest leaving after the mock interview. It is even safe to say that the ending knocks the film from a three rating to the current two and a half. It was that tacked on and unneeded.
"Alpha Dog" is a decent film, which is more than I ask for this time of year. It has, for the most part, contrived characters and a script that could have been cleaned up a bit, but it does have moments that are effective, with some decent lead acting aside from the lame supporting bits. This may not be the memorable movie event of the year, and in a few months it probably won't be on any Best Of lists, but it is rather enjoyable. It isn't good, but it certainly isn't dull.